Jefford on Monday: Crimea's Crisis
Has Ukraine lost its most significant wine-producing region? Quite possibly.
Has Ukraine lost its most significant wine-producing region? Quite possibly.
Embedding, offshoring, re-rooting: I'm not quite sure what you'd call it. The profusion of wine blogs may be the most remarked way in which the web and the telecoms revolution has changed the wine world; is this, though, the runner-up?
Has there ever been a more complicated wine problem than this? I doubt it. We’ve been anguishing about premox (or, more graphically, POx) for almost a decade now, but it hasn’t gone away.
How big should a wine zone be? There's no simple answer, of course. The notorious 'South East Australia' flirts (or perhaps co-habits) with meaninglessness, but French appellations like Languedoc and Côtes de Provence, too, are so large as to leave terroir-loving drinkers nonplussed about what to expect.
Regular readers may remember that I bought twelve bottles of outstanding St Estephe last year. They arrived, packed in the traditional Bordeaux wooden case. There’s no cellar in my rented house, so I put the box in the near-windowless, north-facing laundry room next to where I type this. It’s still there, minus a few bottles, but otherwise doing fine.
What's in a vintage? More, perhaps, than we think.
"Picking icewine is the most fun you'll ever have," Greg Berti confidently assured us, as we trooped dutifully out of the bus and into the bitter wind. "For ten minutes," he added.
There is, surely, no topic of more compelling interest in wine chemistry than the question of acidity. There is, furthermore, no more vexed topic in wine aesthetics than the role of acidity. For these reasons, I hope a suitably qualified author (like the open-minded and thoughtful Jamie Goode) devotes an entire book to the subject one day.
Over Christmas, I sat down to dinner with a friend, the noted Deal wine collector and taster Frank Ward. We shared (with others) a bottle that, almost 30 years ago, he had paid just over £11 for. It is -- or was -- worth around £6,700 today.
Why was the trial of wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan so compelling? It was, after all, hard to squeeze tears for the millionaires, braggarts and 'big boys' who were his erstwhile chums and eventual victims.
Is Pinot Noir now Australia's most successful variety? The question would have seemed mocking a decade ago. It can be asked in all seriousness at the beginning of 2014.
Do I provide enough drinking notes in this weekly bulletin? Perhaps not. The smell and taste of wine is, after all, magnetic north for all of us; everything else is just the scenery along the way. (Feel free to remonstrate about this or any other matter to me directly.)
Back in October, I took a Chinese friend to meet one of wine’s pioneers in my part of the Languedoc. Jean Orliac was, in his earlier years, a keen climber. As he looked down (back in the late 1970s) from footholds on the crags of Hortus and of Pic St Loup, he saw potential in the limestone rubble which lay beneath the branches of cade, holly oak and Aleppo pine.
You may, over the next few weeks, begin to pencil out a holiday plan for 2014. It may involve a vineyard visit or two. If you're hoping to visit leading addresses in Europe's classic regions, write for an appointment well in advance. And prepare, when the reply comes, for disappointment.
They're at it now. At any moment during the earth's daily rotation, and on every day of the 365 our planet takes to circumnavigate the sun, someone, somewhere, will be working in a vineyard. In often lonely but always (I'd argue) noble anonymity, the vineyard worker will be patiently seeing to the needs of one of 2,019 grape varieties, in one of 521 regions, in one of 44 countries.
Where do we start with the wines of Chateau Musar? Perhaps with the book of Hosea, written in the eighth century BCE, where Israelites prepared to return to righteousness.
It will be a while before we get our first taste of 2013 Sancerre, but when it finally begins to splash into glasses in the fish restaurants of London, New York and Singapore, drinkers may detect an unusually pronounced note of gunflint.
For many French winegrowers, 2013 has been a catalogue of anguish. Unhelpful flowering weather meant a generally poor fruitset, and brutal summer hailstorms cut swathes through a number of vineyard regions (notably the Central Loire, Cahors and the Côte de Beaune). That disappointing spring suggested the 2013 harvest was always going to be late; a muted summer confirmed it. The risk, then, was that the weather would break prior to or during harvest.
I am not a Trekkie, but I respect scholarship, so apologies to any wine-loving Star Trek fans who consider the following detail elementary. Drinks served on Starfleet vessels and bases were made with synthehol: a substance which had the same beneficial effects as alcohol, but none of its harmful ones. Is the idea about as credible as bio-mimetic gel or emergency transporter armbands?
I was lucky enough to drink two 1963s on successive nights recently. One, tragically, was rather better than the other. Let me tell you about the bottles. Then I’ll explain the tragedy.
The pace is fierce in Ningxia. This is a wine-growing region where 'old vines' means those that have seen out ten summers. Of the 110 winery leases that have been granted so far, 50 wineries are under construction (or is it 77? – figures here depend on who you talk to) and around 10 are in production – yet the regional powers are already discussing a classification system.
One harvest every six years, I think, deserves a little comment, especially when the crop is the most useful single volume on wine ever published. I am a child of the second edition of The World Atlas of Wine (my copy treasured to this day). With the fifth, the baton passed from Hugh Johnson to Jancis Robinson (and team): the wine world’s leading intelligence agency. The old lapidary style began to dissipate; the book’s informative shoulders grew broader. How good is edition seven?
Is France poised to ban all discussion of wine on the internet? Will wine writing in France be classified as advertising, and therefore sanctioned under the Loi Evin? Will DRC and Pétrus have to print 'Le vin tue' (wine kills) on their labels?
Five late September days in the Chinese vineyard regions of Ningxia and Wuhai was all it took to make me realise the tameness of the western larder, the placidity of western drinking practices and the total irrelevance of 'wine-and-food matching' to the Chinese gastronomic experience. Along the Yellow River, things are very different.
A few weeks ago, I crossed the Rhine in traveling from France’s Alsace into Germany’s Baden. Under the blissful Schengen arrangements, it’s an uneventful occasion; no one wants to thumb your passport or shine a beam on your iris. It wasn’t always thus.
The 2012 publication of Wine Grapes by Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz will lend rigour to practical ampelography around the world. Might its many DNA insights lead to a change in wine law? I can, at any rate, think of a ready candidate for such a change.
The relationship between wine and the screen (whether full, wide or small) is an uneasy one. Watching people taste wine, then talk about it with the kind of animation required to keep tv viewers hooked, is agony. There's nothing visually interesting about any act of viticulture or winemaking. The 'promotional film' is as tedious as the promotional anything. Most wine video clips tell you little, and do so less incisively than a page of text.
This was, perhaps, the most endearing French event I have taken part in since arriving here three years ago. Over the course of a single weekend, 3,200 people (paying 65 euros each) are dispatched on a 6-km vineyard walk up hill and down dale, over brooks, along cliff lines and through scrubby forests.
It was a hot, sultry evening in late July. You could sense a storm building, like a dark stack of whisky barrels in the sky, waiting for ignition in the small hours. If the 2013 vintage in France has a hallmark, it's violence from above: few regions have been spared catastrophic (though localised) hail and flood damage of the sort I described back on July 8th. This, though, is a happier tale.
Leading export managers from Bordeaux and Cognac probably deserve their long holidays this year. The Chinese market may have provided wonderful opportunities for both regions over the last half-decade – but over the last six months, it has also greyed a lot of hair.